Smart Design: 3 Reasons Why Gap’s Logo Flopped

Consumers are more intelligent in this age of branding, and companies better adapt or die.

Rather than rehash Gap’s recent logo debacle, I wanted to learn why just about everyone expressed so much dissatisfaction with the new brand identity. Sure, the design community lead the charge with their expert criticism, but if you check out the hundreds of comments on Gap’s Facebook page you can see that the impact stretched to a wider audience of Gap customers and even the public at large voicing their disappointment.


Sean O?Connor, my colleague at Smart Design and our Global Director of Client Services, is one of our experts in branding. We got to talking this week about what went wrong. He took a look at the wrong turns Gap made to illustrate the importance of emotionally connecting to people — even designers! — for successful brand experiences.

Tom Dair, co-founder and president of Smart Design

Gap has been a part of Western culture for over 40 years and almost every American has some memory or personal experience with the brand, whether it was the anticipation of going to your first day of school and wanting to “fit in” with the latest style, or seeing campaigns where celebs wear off-the-rack clothes. These are small moments, but they impact how we feel about Gap.

Those memories also illustrate why companies must understand that their brand lives outside of the organization, in the experiences of real people. If people suspect that the company has acted without that fact in mind, it doesn’t just make people unhappy. It enrages them. And that’s what just unfolded at Gap.

In my two decades in branding, I’ve heard the phrase “Branding is much more than the logo” countless times. So, if that is the case than why is the logo so important” If Gap produces good products and service, why should their executives care if the logo is universally disliked? Simply because an ill-considered logo shows disrespect for the audience.

At the dawn of the corporate identity discipline, pioneering firms such as Lippincott & Margulies in New York and Wolff Olins in London, preached that a logo and the graphic design system around it should express management’s vision for the brand. While that is all still true today, we live in a very different world. You must remember three things about today’s consumer.


1) Consumers are information experts. They not only have access to it but they influence the dialogue about your brand by expressing their opinion in real time thanks to blogging, Facebook, and Twitter. ?

2) Consumers in this modern, connected world are also much more design savvy. Innovative companies like Apple, Method, and Target have made good design accessible to everyone, not just the elite.

??(3) Today’s consumer also understands that a brand is supposed to be meaningful to them. They expect it to look, act, and behave in a certain way and if it doesn’t they will call it “off- brand.” You would have never heard people say that twenty years ago.

I won’t bother to go into the design itself because it is simply not defendable. But initial comments from the company’s president, stating she was “thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding” and communications teams asking for “other ideas” on their logo, left the impression that they weren’t understanding what their brand means to people — which created even more outrage and backlash. Attempting to change their logo in order to appeal to a younger demographic seemed shallow and insincere. Just because they launched this new logo on the Web doesn’t mean young people will connect with it?news flash: my grandmother, who is 96 years old, shops online.

Why Gap proceeded to ask the general public for design ideas is baffling to say the least. While the design community was up in arms about this from the very beginning — in part to protect their craft, as well they should — it’s interesting to note that people at large started mentioning this in a wide variety of online venues, including Facebook and Twitter, not just on design blogs. This touched a nerve across many groups of people because Gap’s brand holds broad emotional value.

This new logo will not see the light of day on storefronts, uniforms or shopping bags. That kind of extremely expensive undertaking would never be embarked upon with such overwhelming consumer dissatisfaction. They made the right choice (for now) in going back to their current iconic logo. But how does a brand like Gap move forward? With extensive research and great designers — and by listening to the people who care most.


[Photo of a bellyflop competition aboard a cruise ship by lotopspin]


About the author

Sean is a highly accomplished branding consultant with 17 years of experience in developing strategic platforms and managing complex design projects for companies in the United States and Europe. At Smart Design, Sean is responsible for for Client Services globally, working with our client partners to realize the power of design and championing it throughout their organizations